Movie Review: The Last Airbender- A Wasted Opportunity for Quality Family Entertainment in the Hands of the Highly Overrated M. Night Shyamalan

Director M. Night Shyamalan hasn’t had the best track record when it comes to making movies. His claim to fame with The Sixth Sense was over 11 years ago and hasn’t really given an equally promising delivery in cinema since that time. Every film just kept getting worse as The Village and The Happening showed how laughable and unoriginal the filmmaker had actually become. So instead of focusing on original writing material M. Night Shyamalan was given the opportunity to adapt a relatively popular Nickelodeon anime inspired cartoon show about tribes that can control the natural elements. The visual potential and nuanced Eastern philosophy opportunities were ripe and perhaps the Asian-American director could revitalize his career by showing he could make a decent quality blockbuster film. Unfortunately what The Last Airbender proves is that M. Night Shyamalan has no personal grounding to realize when one of his films just lacks the qualities needed to make an engaging film. The awful dialogue and the poor child acting really make this film painful to experience but it’s due to the anti-climactic action sequences and contrite use of special effects that ultimately make The Last Airbender a truly awful movie. Sure kids under the age of potential reason will get a kick out of the familiar CGI but that means this is a kids movie and comes nowhere close to being quality family entertainment.

Supposing there are many unfamiliar with the television shows premise the film goes about explaining the scenario in the most obtuse terms by providing bland narration explaining the predicament at hand. The fire nation, an industrial tribe searching for power, has started war on the other peaceful tribes (Water, Earth, and Air) and has successfully eliminated all of the Air tribe. They have done this because someone called the Avatar, a tribesman who can control all of the elements, was to be born in the Air tribe so all of them were sentenced to death. A brother and sister who reside in the southern water tribe, Katara and Sokka, find Aang who is the last airbender trapped inside a ball of ice and has been there for over a century. Aang was never trained in controlling the other elements so he must make his way to the Water nation in order to learn the next element as obstacles and villains from the fire nation get in his way. While all of these seem quite epic in story, something a television show can handle better for longer explanations and action battles, M. Night Shyamalan’s take is incredibly dry, rushed, and when it comes to the action sort of boring. The story is rushed in many ways as lazy narration supplies us with back story and characters are introduced to us up front as to their beliefs and intentions instead of taking the time through the film to explain their actions. They come off as caricatures rather than people with complex thoughts and feelings and this could always be the fault of the acting if it weren’t such a consistent failing in most of M. Night Shyamalan’s films. Whenever M. Night Shyamalan writes the script, which is always, it seems that he gets too caught up with his own written material and never has a single person critique his work. What ends up happening with M. Night at the helm of the project as the director is the story becomes rushed, the actors deliver rigid dialogue that is verbatim from the script, and the film tanks as a result. Perhaps M. Night Shyamalan should direct other people’s scripts instead of writing his own because he clearly has lost whatever original touch that put him in the limelight to begin with.

The potential that The Last Airbender had to incorporate inventive action, a hodgepodge of Eastern and Western philosophies, and a rousing tale of peace versus power was unlimited, and had a detailed and relatively popular animated television series to give it some guidance. However, M. Night drops the ball on this opportunity by skimming most of the narrative elements available to him. The character of Aang is presented obviously as an element controlling Dalai Lama, found and chosen by how he picks out particular objects from previous air benders. His struggle to be a representative of peace in a world of crisis could be full of tension and struggle yet this opportunity is passed up for deviations in the story for an ultimately useless relationship between Sokka and Princess Yue. The relationship wouldn’t have been so useless if we actually got into the feelings each character possessed instead of claiming they instantly loved each other through narration. But what could have made this film at least enjoyable beyond the horrid rushed story and awful acting would have been some inventive action that stunned you visually. While the action sequences get slightly better as the film goes along it never really invigorates you to a point of fascination. Instead the action passes by as an amusing feature and doesn’t engage your senses forcing you to be more involved in the film. The Last Airbender is just another generic special effects driven film with no rhyme or reason as to why it’s done so stylistically. The style actually makes the film sequences more confusing and the excitement level diminish as your lowest expectations are fulfilled as though you’ve become a prophet.

There must be a secret to M. Night Shyamalan’s ability to make the actors appear so inexperienced and stiff when they are delivering crucial lines. Newcomer Noah Ringer as the central character Aang is painful to watch as he attempts to show emotion and deliver rousing speeches with such little vitality that each scene where he speaks is extremely laughable. One scene where Aang reveals himself to the Earth tribe is one of the most uncomfortable scenes to sit in solely on the fact that his line delivery is so unconvincing. Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel can act, but just appears overly brooding and exaggerated in The Last Airbender most likely due to M. Night Shyamalan’s dedication to his vision without criticism. Most of the cast is filled with younger faces and perhaps they could prove themselves in other films, but with Shyamalan at the helm acting just plummets in quality as his ideas of what the characters should be brings the film down. There are plenty of directors that write their own scripts and can usually get away with it but M. Night Shyamalan shouldn’t be one of those directors anymore. His supposed originality has diminished and all of his films get progressively worse. What makes The Last Airbender worse than The Happening is the fact that the latter film made you unintentionally laugh while the former is an excruciating experience.

Still not convinced that this is the worst summer for films in our limited memory? Then perhaps you should go out and watch the ridiculously overpriced The Last Airbender in useless 3D so that the poor acting and familiar action can pop out at you. There was some hope that M. Night Shyamalan could improve if he had an adapted source guiding him away from his own pretentiousness, but it seems he can’t even get adaptation correct without adding his filmmaking blandness into the equation. Shyamalan in his early career had some intriguing ideas, most notably with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, but then something happened. As he got more creative freedom the quality of his films actually diminished hinting to his talents being inferior to what was originally anticipated. The Last Airbender plays out as though a child wrote the dialogue and was behind the camera, as each sequence becomes uncomfortable and unconvincing due to the awful acting, rushed story, and anti-climactic action. M. Night Shyamalan fails again to make his finished product become anything but flat and perhaps after the critical backlash this time he’ll think twice before putting his own written word on the screen.

Grade: D+

3 Responses to “Movie Review: The Last Airbender- A Wasted Opportunity for Quality Family Entertainment in the Hands of the Highly Overrated M. Night Shyamalan”
  1. Loser says:

    the movie was awesome

  2. Loser says:

    your review sucks. I love the movie and im 22

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